I don’t know if anyone relishes having “the talk” with their kids, but Kate Harding’s spot-on rejection of the notion that casual sex is bad for women has inspired me to start making my list of discussion topics. Harding deftly explains what I’ve always thought was inherently wrong about the traditional “guys want it and girls have to protect it” notion of sex:
But if we stopped looking at “hook-up culture” as intrinsically good or evil, then what about those young women Simmons and Bogle describe — the ones who feel pressured into accepting arrangements they don’t want? Well, here’s another thought: What if we focused on teaching girls to “act on desire and advocate for themselves sexually” instead of fretting about an entire generation being ruined by meaningless blow jobs, or longing for a time when the dating “rules” were simpler? (I suppose things were significantly less complicated when rape was a “bad date,” women were expected to decline sex even when they wanted it, the only acceptable options for pregnant teens were immediate marriage or temporary disappearance, reliable birth control was difficult to come by, ignorance about STIs was rampant, intimate partner violence was strictly a private matter between two people, etc. Sometimes — I’m just throwing this out there — a little additional complexity might not be a bad thing.)
What’s important about this piece is the positive outcome of sexual empowerment and the recognition that all people are not a) straight and b) dying to get married to the first eligible man they can con into putting a ring on it. What people are trying to do is find companionship but sadly it sounds like a lot are losing themselves in the process.
The problem facing these girls writing to Simmons is not that “hook-up culture” has completely destroyed dating, mutual respect, love and commitment. It’s that the girls in question don’t feel comfortable admitting what they want. They’ve been taught that saying “I want a relationship” or “I’m falling in love with you” will terrify any red-blooded American male — that is so not What Guys Want! — so young women who are interested in something more serious are terrified of being alone and completely unwanted if they say so. They’ve been taught to value male attention so much (if you’re hooking up, at least you can be reasonably certain someone thinks you’re pretty) and their own desires so little, that when they’re not getting enough out of a relationship, their first thought is “How can I change so he’ll want me more?” instead of, “Well, this isn’t working — I’m going to end it and look for a better match.” They’ve been taught that if they’re unhappy with a guy, it’s probably because they’re making Common Dating Mistakes, not because true compatibility is maddeningly uncommon — or because, get this, guys make mistakes, too.
Importantly, this isn’t just a discussion to have with my daughter as women don’t have the market cornered on the need to understand their own sexual and emotional needs. Furthermore, it’s an incredible disservice to bang the “he’s gotta’ have it” drum that reduces men into creatures who have no capacity for making a meaningful connection to another human being. Personally, I don’t know very many men like that and I certainly won’t raise my son to think that tired stereotype is accurate or acceptable.
I may not be looking forward to the awkward conversation (I’m all fired up right now, but when the time comes I’m sure I’ll be shaking nervously behind a giant text book with diagrams they can study in the privacy of their own rooms), but I am looking forward to teaching my kids that sex is not a one-size-fits-all condition and finding someone that shares their world outlook is much more exciting than “landing a man” or “getting some tail.”